How Red Sox are affected by Zack Wheeler's contract extension with Phillies

Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Seven
Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Seven / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

2024 has been the year of groundbreaking deals. The Dodgers signed Shohei Ohtani for 10 years at $700 million, Juan Soto was awarded a record-breaking $31.5 million in arbitration, and the Phillies extended their ace Zack Wheeler for a staggering price. And the Boston Red Sox might be most affected by the latter case.

News broke on Monday that Wheeler and Philadelphia agreed to a three-year, $126 million extension. With a $42 million average annual value, it's the highest-value contract extension MLB has ever seen. The extension carries no options, and Wheeler's eventual 10-and-5 rights afford him full protection from trades.

Wheeler performed up to standard during the first four years of his tenure in Philly. His dominance on the mound played a huge part in the Phillies' World Series run in 2022. That year, he logged a striking 2.82 ERA over 153 innings. The season before, he earned an All-Star nod and led MLB in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and batters faced. He finished second in National League Cy Young voting.

At the age of 33 in the 2023 season, Wheeler pitched 192 innings, so the Phillies will absolutely get their money's worth out of Wheeler's contract if he's able to maintain such longevity.

The Phillies' extension of Zack Wheeler could negatively affect the Red Sox

It's well known that the Red Sox have been in a rather slow pursuit of Jordan Montgomery's signature all offseason. After Ohtani signed for as much as he did, people began to theorize that Montgomery and his free-agent counterpart, Blake Snell, were also not going to come at a small price.

The Corbin Burnes deal could have sent prices down on the trade market — the Orioles acquired former Brewers ace Burnes for prospects Joey Ortiz, D.L. Hall and a 2024 draft pick, a price many believe is quite low for a pitcher of Burnes' pedigree — but free agency hasn't been affected too drastically outside of Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman.

Now, Wheeler's extension has likely jacked up the price for pitchers again, not that it wasn't high to begin with. The rise may put Montgomery firmly out of Boston's self-imposed financial limitations.

Many MLB executives believe that the Red Sox are going to end up signing Montgomery. The two parties have kept in constant contact this offseason, but there has been little motion when it comes to getting a contract signed.

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It's discouraging that the Wheeler price could drive up the price tag on all future pitcher deals. There's been a palpable increase in money spent on contracts across baseball in recent years, and the Red Sox are being priced out of contention in the AL East and beyond. The Sox have the money, but they're so hell-bent on not overpaying for anyone that competent pitching help may be hard to come by in Boston in the future.

Blake Snell still remains on the market, but his price was so high to begin with that the Wheeler deal probably hasn't affected his ask much. It will, however, influence how low Snell and his agent Scott Boras will be willing to go to secure a deal. Even as free agents get desperate, there are new benchmarks to be met when signing pitchers with all the expensive deals of 2023-24.

Other high-profile pitchers will be on the hunt for extensions in the coming year, such as Burnes and the Braves' Max Fried. There's no telling whether they'll ask for $42 million per year or more from their clubs, but they absolutely could demand such a salary in this market. And if Baltimore can't get an extension done with Burnes or Atlanta with Fried, their prices in the free-agent pool are bound to be staggering. Either they'll get monster AAVs or generous long-term offers.

Then again, next to no one would be content to dish out so much money for Montgomery. Even Wheeler, if he was to become a free agent next season as he was set to be before the extension, might've had a hard time fetching that number. After all, this was Max Scherzer/Justin Verlander money! Steve Cohen set the market with those short-term, high AAV contracts.

Nonetheless, hopefully, Montgomery and Boras have learned from his stagnant market and they won't jack up the left-hander's price. He may never find a 2024 team if they do.

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